The Showroom Finder Shopping Guide

What You’re Never Told About Your Homeowner’s Policy

As a Certified Personal Property Appraiser, I deal with insurance companies on damage claims of all sorts. Most recently, my client stored a collection of antiques and vintage items in his garage. To his misfortune, a water pipe burst in the interior wall. There was water everywhere. He called a plumber (which is not covered under your policy) and his insurance company sent out a rescue squad... This is where the real problems began to occur.

Some insurance companies subcontract their claims to independent contractors which involve several different companies, i.e., a field adjuster, a testing lab to check for asbestos in drywall and drywall mud, a hazard removal company and a cleaning crew to dry out and/or remove the affected drywall by installing drying machines for not less than a week or so and all of whom you would expect to be qualified professionals.

Let's start with the field adjuster... Usually this is pretty standard procedure and for the most part, you shouldn't have too much difficulty here. They measure, photograph and calculate the damages by known formulas. The testing lab tells us there is asbestos in the drywall and the drywall mud... "it tested positive". Asbestos in drywall and/or drywall mud was outlawed in 1978, so if your home was built after that date there should be no hazard present. It could not have passed inspection by the County Building Inspector and it would be a health code violation to have used any product(s) containing asbestos. We asked for a copy of the lab report... it was never sent or received and the insurance company probably never even asked to see it. All billings from all contractors are supposed to be paid in a "joint" check to them and the homeowner. That wasn't done either. The contractor was paid directly without the homeowner ever seeing the bill.

The water removal/repair contractor is to remove all the moisture in the studs, cement slab and/or drywall. They bring in huge machines to run 24/7 ON YOUR ELECTRICITY BILL which the insurance company doesn't pay either. In about a week, they return to tell you that they don't put the drywall back up because it's a conflict of interest and their corporate office refuses to do it! Now you're left with gaping holes in the ceiling and walls which they wrap with plastic and refuse to send you a certificate of completion. When you complain to the in-house adjuster, you're told to "hire a general contractor" to complete the work! Why should you have to become involved in any aspect of this repair? Isn't it the duty, obligation and responsibility of the insurance you pay for?

In this case, a restoration contractor evaluates the damages to your personal property - some of which were antiques and/or vintage items that cannot be replaced. Your insurance policy says it will cover contents... for antiques, fine arts and personal property; however, no clear explanation of what that really means is delineated in the policy. You're never told by your agent that "Fine Arts & Antiques" has a $5,000 cap rate for everything! Collectively your "antique" contents may exceed $50,000 to $100,000 but they're only worth $5,000 in the event of a loss payable. My client consistently asked for information and pricing to add a rider to the policy... it's never been responded to other than to indicate verbally "you're covered for all your contents"! Your insurance company and/or your agent does not want you to have the ability to insure high value items because it costs them money!

Technically, the legal definition of "antiques" is items 100 years or older (reference U.S. Customs). Likewise "vintage" items are those which are 25 years or older but less than 100 years old. This is not sufficiently or succinctly explained in insurance policies which usually lists all these items under "Fine Arts".

Know your rights under your policy. Always demand a Certificate of Completion for labor and a Material Release for any and all items delivered to your property in the restoration process to avoid liens placed on your property by unpaid suppliers. If your policy does not specifically EXCLUDE items, they can be legally included and therefore covered. Every insurance company, under current law, has to advise you of the disclosure which will give you the opportunity to file a dispute with the State Insurance Department. In cases like this one, you just may have to do that!


About the author

Florence Quinn, G.C.A., Cum Laude is a Graduate Certified Appraiser as well as a retired member of the legal profession having worked in the Wills & Trusts Department of a major law firm. Her experience in the antiques and personal property industry spans over 50 years. Ms. Quinn owns and operates BackStreet Antiques & Appraisal Company in the heart of the San Dimas Historic District.